COLUMBUS - While the Heisman Trophy campaigns of a number of his likely challengers have taken a hit in recent weeks, Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith is surging forward, in consistent and convincing fashion.
A clavicle crunch took Oklahoma running back Adrian Peterson out of the race, and the quicksand defense employed by Western Michigan on Saturday limited Northern Illinois running back Garrett Wolfe to 25 yards on 18 carries, likely dousing his long-shot chances.
Smith, meanwhile continues to lead the Big Ten in passing efficiency, and is sixth nationally. He has completed 68.2 percent of his passes (116-170) for 1,495 yards and 17 touchdowns with just two interceptions. Smith is Ohio State's all-time completion percentage leader, hitting on 62.9 percent of his career passes (333-529).
Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said Smith's play, as well as the success of his team, which has been ranked No. 1 in the country since before the start of the season, keeps the senior from Cleveland in the forefront of the Heisman picture.
"I think the one thing is that his team is undefeated," Tressel said. "The evolution that the Heisman Trophy has taken over the last couple years, is that the focus seems to be on guys on teams who are doing the best, and I think that's wonderful because that's what it's about.
"And I think one thing that has kept him in the limelight, if you will, is that his team has done well. Now, he's been a big part of that and he does a whole bunch of things like his escapability and his consistency and so forth, but I think it starts with your team."
With 244 yards in total offense last week, Smith has 5,725 yards in his career and ranks seventh in Ohio State history after moving past two-time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin.
Most impressive in the eyes of the Heisman voters might be Smith's 20-2 record as a starter, but Tressel said he is leaving the promotion side of the Heisman race to someone else and concentrating on Smith the football player.
"I would have to defer to the marketing masterminds - I'm not sending anything out," Tressel said. "But everyone has a role . . . and mine is making sure that he has good footwork."
Smith's 41 career touchdown passes rank him fourth in Ohio State history, behind Bobby Hoying (57), Joe Germaine (56), and Art Schlichter (50). He has at least one touchdown pass in 13 of his last 14 games and two or more in six of the Buckeyes' seven games this year.
MR. FIX-IT: Tressel says his Buckeyes, despite their No. 1 ranking and 7-0 record, have a lot that needs fixed. He reluctantly laid out some of the areas that need attention.
"You always have to get better tackling, and until we get down to zero missed tackles, we're not going to be happy," Tressel said.
"And obviously, if you took each and every special team and divided it by 11, whether it be your punt return team or what, we need to do a better job holding up. Or with your snapper, the ball needs to be a little bit tighter in the window. Rather than six inches off, it needs zero to three or whatever it happens to be. Offensively, name the position, and the consistency. The level at which we would like to be leaves room for improvement in everything we do."
DEFENSIVE ID: Ohio State junior linebacker Curtis Terry said the Buckeyes' defense has used the first half of the season to craft a personality all its own. "I think we have established an identity of being an attacking defense," Terry said. "Last year's defense would go out and stop you. This year, we are going to go out and make things happen and create turnovers."
SHORT STUFF: Tressel likes the way freshman running back Chris Wells is handling the short-yardage situations, where the 6-1, 225-pounder has frequently carried the ball.
"I think Chris will be an outstanding short-yardage back, because sometimes you get so many guys in the box that you're going to have to break a tackle," Tressel said.
"And he can break a tackle. But it starts up front, and I think we have improved there . . . And our goal is to be 100 percent in short yardage. I think of the seven ball games, we've only been 100 percent like four times, so we're not there yet."
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